Michael Stern and the Kansas City Symphony have long been champions of American music, and their 2018-19 season, with an American piece on almost every program, is a veritable celebration of native composers.
But Stern, being the master programmer that he is, has also selected an abundance of music from all nationalities and eras to satisfy conservative tastes. And there are just the right number of new works to tantalize the adventurous.
“We always try to do interesting stuff,” Stern said. “We’re an American orchestra and an American city, and we have a great swath of music by a wide range of American composers. But it doesn’t feel like overloading because everything is integrated into the season.”
There are 35 composers represented in 14 concerts, and of those, 13 works are getting their first-ever Kansas City Symphony performance. There are interesting pieces by Americans across the spectrum, from the tried-and-true like Samuel Barber and Aaron Copland to Augusta Read Thomas and Sarah Kirkland Snider. There’s also a work by a local jazz guitarist that should please his many fans.
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“Pat Metheny is represented in a very interesting piece for percussion and orchestra,” Stern said. “Christopher Deviney, the Philadelphia Orchestra’s principal percussionist, and Chris McLaurin, our principal percussionist, are the soloists.”
With Stern’s wealth of connections in the music world, he’s able to bring a top-notch roster of guest musicians and conductors to add sizzle to the Symphony. Next season, guest conductors include Andrey Boreyko, Ryan McAdams and returning audience favorite Bernard Labadie. The renowned Edo de Waart will conduct what promises to be a standout concert of music by Rossini and Mendelssohn and Barber’s Piano Concerto with Alessio Bax as soloist.
Several other great pianists will make appearances as well. George Li is returning, after his debut with the Symphony last year. Also, Benjamin Grosvenor, Alon Goldstein and keyboard titan Yefim Bronfman, who will perform Liszt’s virtuosic Piano Concerto No. 2.
“And then we have great fiddle players,” Stern said. “Stefan Jackiw is coming and Maria Ioudenitch, a local girl made good.”
Ioudenitch is the daughter of Stanislav Ioudenitch, Van Cliburn International Competition gold medalist and founder of Park University’s International Center for Music. Her mother, Tatiana, is a fabulous pianist in her own right.
“Both her parents are wonderful musicians,” Stern said. “She is a product of their teaching, and she’s developed into this wonderful artist. She’s currently studying at the Curtis Institute of Music, which, of course, is my alma mater, so that makes me happy.”
One of the highlights of the season is Gustav Mahler’s epic Symphony No. 3. The lengthy work will occupy an entire concert and will feature mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor, as well as the women of the Kansas City Symphony Chorus and the lovely children’s voices of the Allegro Choirs of Kansas City.
“The Symphony No. 3 is one of Mahler’s most profoundly human pieces,” Stern said. “The childlike quality, the innocence, is balanced by an incredible depth of interior emotion, and you need a great singer to bring that out, and we have it in Kelley O’Connor. Mahler Three is a universe unto itself. It’s a complete program in length and heft.”
Twenty-one of the works next season were written in the 20th or 21st centuries. That’s almost half the season. Seven of those composers are still living. Stern believes that it is the responsibility of an orchestra to approach music as a living art form and not as a museum of classic masterpieces. But he acknowledges that’s a challenge for audiences who might be suspicious of new music.
“It’s incredibly important that we build trust with the audience,” Stern said. “You make the case to them. ‘Listen, remember you came in for the Beethoven or Tchaikovsky and there was that little thing you didn’t like and you ended up really liking it? Why don’t you just trust me to choose something I think you’re really going to enjoy?’ You want to make the experience great for them so they can’t wait to come back. They’re going to hear new music in the context of the old, and I think it’s really going to have an impact.”
All performances in Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. For tickets and more information, call 816-471-0400 or visit kcsymphony.org.
You can reach Patrick Neas at email@example.com and follow his Facebook page, KC Arts Beat, at facebook.com/kcartsbeat.
The 2018-19 season
▪ Sept. 14-16: Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances and New Era Dance by Aaron Jay Kernis. Sean Chen, piano; Noah Geller, violin; and Mark Gibbs, cello. Michael Stern, conductor.
▪ Oct. 5-7: Grieg’s Piano Concert, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 and “A Thousand Words” by Michael Kurth. George Li, piano. Michael Stern, conductor.
▪ Nov. 16-18: Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 “The Great,” Mozart’s “Ave Verum Corpus,” Bach’s “O Jesu Christ, Mein’s Leben’s Licht” and “On the Transmigration of Souls” by John Adams. Kansas City Symphony Chorus conducted by Charles Bruffy; Allegro Choirs of Kansas City directed by Christy Eisner. Michael Stern, conductor.
▪ Nov. 23-25: Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 “Jupiter” and Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 26 “Lamentatione” and Trumpet Concerto. Julian Kaplan, trumpet. Bernard Labadie, conductor.
▪ Jan. 11-13, 2019: Igor Stravinsky’s Chant Funèbre, Alexander Glazunov’s Violin Concerto and Tchaikovsky’s Suite No. 3. Maria Ioudenitch, violin. Andrey Boreyko, conductor.
▪ Jan. 25-27: Carl Nielsen’s “Aladdin” Suite, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 1, Charles Tomlinson Griffes’ “White Peacock” and Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. Alon Goldstein, piano. Michael Stern, conductor.
▪ Feb. 8-10: Gershwin’s Cuban Overture, Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 “From the New World” and “Imaginary Day,” Duo Concerto for Vibraphone, Marimba and Orchestra by Pat Metheny. Christopher Deviney, vibraphone; Christopher McLaurin, marimba; Michael Stern, conductor.
▪ March 8-10: Rossini’s “William Tell” Overture, Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 “Scottish” and Samuel Barber’s Piano Concerto. Alessio Bax, piano. Edo de Waart, conductor.
▪ March 29-31: Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana,” “Something for the Dark” by Sarah Kirkland Snider and “EOS: Goddess of the Dawn” by Augusta Read Thomas. Jennifer Zetlan, soprano; Nicholas Phan, tenor; Hugh Russell, baritone; Kansas City Symphony Chorus directed by Charles Bruffy; Allegro Choirs of Kansas City directed by Christy Eisner. Ryan McAdams, conductor.
▪ April 12-14: Darius Milhaud’s “Le Boeuf sur le Toit,” Édouard Lalo’s Cello Concerto, Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” and Maurice Ravel’s La Valse. Jean-Guihen Queyras, cello. Michael Stern, conductor.
▪ May 17-19: Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 3. Kelley O’Connor, mezzo-soprano; women of the Kansas City Symphony Chorus directed by Charles Bruffy; Allegro Choirs of Kansas City directed by Christy Eisner. Michael Stern, conductor.
▪ May 31-June 2: Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 “Turkish,” Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 1 orchestrated by Arnold Schoenberg and “Within Her Arms” by Anna Clyne. Stefan Jackiw, violin. Michael Stern, conductor.
▪ June 7-9: Brahms’ 11 Chorale Preludes, Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 2, Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor orchestrated by Leopold Stokowski and Paul Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber. Yefim Bronfman, piano. Michael Stern, conductor.
▪ June 21-23: Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1, Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” orchestrated by Ravel and “Snapshot: Circa 1909” by John Corigliano. Benjamin Grosvenor, piano. Michael Stern, conductor.